In 2019, 14.5 million people in the United States ages twelve and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and each year the number increases. Alcohol use disorder is the term that encompasses alcohol addiction (also known as alcoholism), alcohol dependence, and alcohol abuse. It can be mild, moderate, or severe. It is not uncommon for a person with a mild or moderate pattern of alcohol abuse to have it develop into an addiction.
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction, like any substance addiction, is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. With the continued misuse of alcohol, changes take place in the complex structures of the brain. A person with addiction is not able to control or stop their alcohol use regardless of any negative health, relationship, occupational, or social consequences. Their drinking causes them distress and harm. They constantly crave alcohol and feel irritable and anxious if they are not drinking. If they suddenly stop or drastically reduce their alcohol intake, they experience intense withdrawal symptoms.
How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?
Experts recommend drinking in moderation. According to WebMD, a woman should not have more than one drink a day, and a man should not have more than two drinks a day. At-risk or heavy drinking for a woman is more than three drinks in a day or more than seven drinks in a week. For a man, it is more than four drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks in a week.
One drink equals:
- Beer – 12 ounces
- Wine – 5 ounces
- Liquor (such as rum, whiskey, or tequila) – 1 ½ ounce
What Is Binge Drinking?
When a person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time, they are binge drinking. For women, binge drinking is drinking four or more alcoholic beverages in two hours. For men, it is drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in two hours. Binge drinking is very common, and not everyone who binge drinks is alcohol dependent. However, regular binge drinking increases the risk of developing AUD.
What Is a “High-Functioning Alcoholic”?
Someone who is “high-functioning” in their alcohol use disorder can manage the different areas of their life, such as families, jobs, and homes, while being addicted to alcohol. They usually fulfill their obligations and may appear mentally and physically healthy. They are very good at hiding their cravings and addiction. They are often in denial that they have a problem. In most cases, however, if the alcohol use is not addressed, the person’s ability to function will decline. They will start to show the signs of their addiction even as they may continue to deny it.
10 Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
- You want to stop or cut down on your drinking, but you have not been able to.
- You do not have control over your drinking. For example, you drink more than you intended.
- You avoid friends and family so you can drink.
- You have stopped doing activities you once enjoyed because of your alcohol use.
- You spend a lot of time drinking alcohol, recovering from its effects, or thinking about it.
- You have little, if any, interest in family or social events that do not include alcohol.
- You know your drinking is causing problems, but you drink anyway.
- You hide alcohol around the house, outside, or in your vehicle.
- You neglect your responsibilities at home, school, or work.
- You use alcohol in dangerous situations, such as driving, operating machinery, or mixing alcohol with a prescription or illicit drug.
Five Dangerous Ways Alcohol Affects Your Body
Here are five parts of the body that are harmed by alcohol use disorder:
- Heart: Binge drinking and heavy drinking may cause high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, or heart failure.
- Brain: Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the communication pathways of the brain, making it harder to think quickly and clearly. It also affects the person’s mood, behavior, coordination, and memory.
- Central nervous system: Some of the immediate short-term effects of alcohol on the central nervous system include slurred speech, impaired memory, blurry vision, and delayed reaction time. Alcohol addiction can cause permanent damage to the cells resulting in neuropathy of the hands and feet, causing them to have alternating feelings of pain, burning, weakness, and numbness.
- Liver: The liver breaks down harmful substances, including alcohol. Alcohol addiction often causes liver diseases such as liver inflammation, liver scarring, or alcoholic liver cirrhosis.
- Immune System: Alcohol use disorder reduces the ability of the body’s white blood cells to fight harmful bacteria. It reduces the production of many substances a body needs to have a healthy immune system, leaving the person more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia and other bacterial and viral infections.
Find Help for Your Addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, we can help. Call and speak to a caring professional at Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana. Learn how you can change your life as you travel the path to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.